Thomas Rhett has belted out a lot of songs in his career, but his newest single “Life Changes” is probably the most apropos.
On Aug. 12, he and his wife Lauren Akins welcomed daughter Ada James. Just a few months prior, the couple adopted their daughter, Willa Gray, now 22 months old.
How’s that for life changes?
“Last Christmas it was literally me and my wife and two dogs, and this Christmas is going to be my wife, two dogs and two kids,” he told PEOPLE at the iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas on Saturday. “I would say that’s the most massive change on the planet.”
“It’s hard,” he said of juggling new fatherhood (times two!) and touring,” but Lauren has been so amazing.”
In fact, his wife flew to Los Angeles on Friday with the children to surprise him during his show at The Greek, which he says “is not an easy flight with two kids under 2.”
Like we said, life changes.
“I meet people in meet and greet and people will say, ‘I know that that story is your story, but I replace things that happen in my life and sing the chorus and it makes sense for all of us,’” Rhett said. “That’s one the things I thrive on as a songwriter is trying to make it as personal as I can and have it relate to as many people as humanly possible.”
abcnewsradioonline.com — Sure, Thomas Rhett has a #1 album on both the all-genre chart and the country ranking, as well as a top-ten song with “Unforgettable.”
But it’s likely the recognition of one single fan that means the most to him: that would be his adopted daughter from Uganda, Willa Gray.
“You can tell she loves music,” TR says, “because anytime there’s a drum beat, she’s dancing, she’s spinning around in circles. But lately, I’ve been pretty impressed, like when we’ll be riding in the car and ‘Unforgettable’ will come on the radio and she’ll go ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ And so I think she knows the sound of my voice enough, even when she hears it in a song, she can pick out that that’s a song that I sing.”
The father of two — Willa also has a newborn sister named Ada — says his oldest definitely gravitates toward one track on his chart-topping Life Changes album.
“She loves this song ‘Leave Right Now’ and it’s probably because it has such an intense beat. Bruno Mars is her favorite,” TR reveals. “She loves dance music in general, so I think that’s her favorite on the record.”
Thomas got to meet Bruno this week, sharing a photo of the two together on his socials. Midland’s Cameron Duddy, a longtime friend of the “Uptown Funk” hitmaker who’s also directed his videos, put the two together.
wmagazine.com — “I’ve always hated directions,” said Thomas Rhett, who on Tuesday became the first country singer to top the Billboard 200 this year.
It was last Friday, just days before Rhett’s accomplishment officially marked him as a major crossover artist, and he was between dates on a nationwide stadium tour supporting third album Life Changes. Doing things his own way is clearly working for the 27-year but when we spoke he was referring to his family and his two young daughters, both just under 2.
“We’ve gotten a whole bunch of stuff lately like strollers and cribs and my wife is always, like, ‘Hey, wait, get the directions. But I won’t do it,” he said, laughing. “I would rather sit there for seven hours and figure it out by myself. But I get it done.”
Bucking convention has made Rhett one of country music’s top new stars over the course of three albums, and his latest further tiptoes into mainstream music, mixing pop hooks and guitar rock to create a modern country sound. “Country music is changing so much,” Rhett said. “It’s interesting to see this shift in people who love pop and hip-hop music starting to come to country music concerts and find a blend of everything they love.”
Banking on his new commercial success, Rhett is extending into fashion with a pop-up collaboration alongside the Los Angeles streetwear designer Daniel Patrick, a favorite of other music personalities like Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Teyana Taylor.
“I’ve never seen anyone else in country music do a pop-up store,” Rhett said, adding he doesn’t see any reason why these two worlds can’t fit together. “If you ask anybody how country artists dress, they would think probably a belt buckle and a cowboy hat. And there still are those people,” he said. At his pop-up shop, officially dubbed “Daniel Patrick X Thomas Rhett,” they’ll be able to buy anorak track pullovers, shorts and caps. “But, the people at my concerts, a lot of them are wearing Gucci T-shirts.” (The pop-up opens at L.A.’s Fairfax Melrose district on Friday, the same day as Rhett’s concert at the Greek Theatre, and runs through Sunday.)
As Rhett sees it, country fans want to embrace better merchandise, which in his view has been in a rut. “In country music, all we ever do is sell face-T’s,” he said, “and a lot of them are terrible, things that I would ever wear, ever.” So, he’s following in the footsteps of major pop stars, from Bieber to Kanye West and Rihanna, who are beefing up the quality of their merch by partnering with the likes of Fear of God and Alexander Wang.
Initially, Rhett met with some resistance from designers. “The response is always, our market is not country music, “ he said. But he argues that’s a missed opportunity to reach a huge and eager untapped audience.
“The biggest goal of the pop-up store is to put country music on that map, trying to get kids who want to be into fashion a way to start somewhere,” he said. “People could say, that’s not country. But, what is country? The goal is to change the sense that all we are is cars and dust and trucks.”
billboard.com — Thomas Rhett held nothing back on his latest LP Life Changes — as indicated by the set’s weighty title. And while it’s hardly the first time he’s approached personal subject matter — “Die A Happy Man,” the country smash from 2015’s Tangled Up, was penned about his wife Lauren — he admits this is the most no-holds-barred he’s been on a record.
“I was really just trying to have hits, you know? Make a name,” Rhett told Billboard of his previous work at his iHeartRadio Album Release Party. “But looking back, never in a million years would I have thought that people would want to hear my personal stories in a song. But I’ve learned that my fans truly love a story, and they love an honest story — and that’s what I tried to do on this record. Every song that I wrote, if it wasn’t personal, I’ve at least experienced it in some form.”
Rhett sings of just about every stage of his life on his third effort, from being a frustrated 18 year old who just wants to be 21, to being a dad to two kids under the age of 2. With so much personal accounting over the course of one 14-track album, Rhett hopes his latest record takes fans on a journey: “I want them to feel like they knew me when they were 16 and we were in high school together.”
After Rhett sat down with Billboard at his album release event, he joined the four producers of Life Changes (Julian Bunetta, Joe London, Jesse Frasure and Dan Huff) on the iHeartRadio Theater stage in New York City to detail how a handful of the songs came together. Take a look at some of the best takeaways below.
He wrote 50-60 songs for this album and had a really tough time narrowing them down. “It’s like having 17 kids and telling five of them you can’t come on the family trip,” Rhett said — to which event host Bobby Bones replied, “What a terrible analogy!”
He was supposed to help co-write “Craving You,” but had a sinus infection — and in fact, didn’t like the song at first. “I told him to listen to it more and more,” Bunetta recalled. “I said, ‘Here’s maybe an angle you’re not seeing that you would really thrive in.'” Once Rhett was on board, “I gave TR a ton of chances to put his mark on the song,” Bunetta said. Rhett responded with a smile, “I’m a stand-up guy so I didn’t take any of the credit.”
The sweetly specific lines about Mang-o-Ritas and the 14th of October in “Unforgettable” were actually made up. “We just randomly picked those,” Rhett explained, adding with a laugh, “I do love Mang-o-Ritas though, they’re great.”
He almost didn’t marry Lauren. Rhett said that after the track listing for Life Changes came out, lots of fans were saying they’d want to use his song “Marry Me” for their wedding. “That’s the song you [definitely don’t] want to play at a wedding,” Rhett laughed. “That was basically my ‘What if’ song — there was a time [Lauren and I] dated and broke up forever and almost married other people… That’s a very morbid thing to write about, but it’s one of my favorite songs on the record, I’m such a sucker for a sad song.” Continue reading
cmt.com — The day before Thomas Rhett‘s Life Changes album was released, he tweeted, “These 14 songs represent who I am today, I hope you can find yourself in each of them.”
And when I sat down with him before the final show of his release-day adventure on Friday (Sept. 8), we talked about finding yourself in songs. His hope is that his fans will be able to relate to all the songs, from the nostalgic ballad “Sixteen” and the Alabama-esque “Drink a Little Beer,” to the heartland rocker “Renegades” and the hopelessly romantic and retro “Sweetheart.”
“All of us artists are a little ADD in a strange way,” Rhett told me. “We all like to try new things and push that boundary. And when you do push that boundary and the stars align and it just clicks with fans, it’s a really special feeling. And I think that’s what we have with this record.”
As confident as Rhett was about releasing what is essentially a kind of mix tape, he was never 100 percent positive that all of this music would work.
“I think that’s the biggest fear of putting this record out. You don’t know what’s gonna work, you don’t know what’s not gonna work,” he said. But what he did know was that getting to know his fans up close and personal made him almost certain that if he was digging the songs, so would they.
“Getting to see my fans face to face, meeting them, and observing them when we play all kinds of pre-roll music made me feel like we’re all on the same level. We grew up at the same time, and we listen to a ton of different kinds of music. So if I can make a record that would make me want to listen to it, then hopefully you can listen to it at whatever stage of life you’re in.
“I’ve lived through all these experiences, and been influenced by so many different things, that I hope my fans have come along with me on this journey. Even if they didn’t know about certain eras of music, maybe this music makes them want to dive in back into that.”
And it sounds like Rhett was almost adamant that he didn’t want to keep making the same record over and over.
“Watching my fave artists — like Bruno Mars — from record one until now, it’s worlds apart,” he said.
“But I bought into him as an artist. Just like I bought into Luke Bryan as an artist. And I bought into George Strait as an artist. I think that when you believe in the person, you just kind of go with him. If they want to try something different, they try something different. It may not be your favorite thing in the world, but you’re still like, ‘I like that person.’”